After Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson each eased their way off the bus that ferried them from their hotel to the Barclays Center for the biggest night of their young lives, they wound up next to each other as they awaited the start of the NBA draft.
The two of them began to talk, two young men excited about the experience that was about to take place that turned even more unimaginable when Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson wound up as Clippers.
Robinson came by direct route, the Boston College shooting guard drafted 13th overall by the Clippers.
Gilgeous-Alexander traveled another path, the Kentucky point guard drafted 11th overall by Charlotte and then having his draft rights traded to the Clippers, who sent Michigan State forward Miles Bridges to the Hornets after selecting him 12th.
No matter what road the pair of 6-foot-6 guards traveled to get to the Clippers, Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson will try to form a backcourt of the future for L.A.
“It was funny. We were standing side-by-side, talking for like an hour and a half,” Robinson said. “He was in my group of players. We were just chatting it up. He’s a cool guy.”
“We talked a little bit since we’ve been here,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We almost built a little bond before this even happened. I guess we were just meant to go together. It’s going to be cool.”
The rest of the NBA draft went pretty much as expected.
The Phoenix Suns used the the No. 1 pick to take Arizona center Deandre Ayton. The Sacramento Kings took Duke forward Marvin Bagley III with the second pick.
Then came the night’s first big move when the Atlanta Hawks drafted European teenage sensation Luka Doncic and subsequently traded his draft rights to Dallas for the draft rights of point guard Trae Young, who was taken fifth overall by the Mavericks.
The Memphis Grizzlies took Michigan State power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. fourth.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. falling to the Denver Nuggets at 14.
Porter had been pegged to go in the top seven, but back issues and hip problems that forced him to cancel a workout obviously scared teams off.
“It was crazy because I was working out for a month straight, hearing from the very top teams in the draft,” Porter said. “That little episode of that hip pain happened and all the top teams are a little scared.”
USC guard De’Anthony Melton and power forward Chimezie Metu were taken by a couple of Western Conference powerhouses. Melton was picked 46th overall by the Houston Rockets and Metu 49th by the San Antonio Spurs.
UCLA center Thomas Welsh was selected 58th by the Denver Nuggets.
The Clippers were focused on getting the best talent they could acquire, regardless of specific needs.
“Well first of all, super, super excited to add two high-character, competitive, tough, high-IQ players,” said Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations. “Both these guys are great representatives of who we are and the direction we’re going.
“I think one of the things going into the draft — what we prioritize is draft the best available talent. We don’t go by need. We go by best available talent that fit what Clipper characteristics are all about.”
Gilgeous-Alexander bounded up to the stage and shook hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wearing a Hornets hat.
A few minutes later, Gilgeous-Alexander had been acquired by the Clippers, his spirits still high.
“Obviously, getting drafted into the NBA is an amazing feeling. So I was happy regardless of who drafted me,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I was happy that I got drafted to Charlotte and ecstatic and it was a dream come true and I couldn’t even describe that feeling. Then I got traded to the Clippers and it was an even better feeling.”
When Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson passed each other in the hallway after doing some media obligations, they smiled and hugged, the two new friends now teammates.
“When I saw him in a Clippers hat, I was like, ‘What? I thought he was drafted by Charlotte,’” Robinson said. “I didn’t even know because I was in the back. So when I saw him I was like, ‘That’s dope!’”
Gilgeous-Alexander, 19, is a point guard who averaged 14.4 points and 5.1 assists for the Wildcats. He shot 48.5% from the field, 40.4% from three-point range.
The Clippers had him on their radar all along.
“I think that I fit that role perfectly,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I think that’s why I’m headed in that direction. My ability to play both sides of the floor, as well, will help them a lot. My likeability and my leadership is what I guess they were looking for.”
Robinson, 21, played three years for Boston College. He averaged 20.7 points last season, shooting 48.5% from the field and 40.9% from three-point range.
He was a finalist last season for the Jerry West Award that goes to the top shooting guard in college. West is now a consultant for the Clippers.
“I didn’t play much point guard at BC, but I’ve got a point-guard mentality,” Robinson said. “Also being able to guard multiple positions is another big thing for me.”
Clippers guard Austin Rivers said he has decided to opt in on his $12.6-million contract for next season. Rivers averaged career highs in points (15.1), assists (4.0), three-point percentage (37.8%) and minutes (33.7) last season.